Ten planning lessons from Boulder


Source: theboulderstand.org

Source: theboulderstand.org

I had the great pleasure of visiting Boulder, Colorado for the first time over an extended four-day weekend. As an urban planner, I was able to take away many useful lessons for many communities across the nation, including here in the Great Lakes Region, as well as around the world, from this charming city abutting the Front Range. Granted, not every place can be set aside majestic mountains, but every community does have some manner of unique attribute(s).

Here are what I would quantify as the top ten planning lessons that were taken away from my visit to Boulder, Colorado last weekend.

  • Cherish, protect, enhance, and enjoy your natural surroundings, attributes, and amenities.
  • Don’t worry, be active! As one of the healthiest and most active cities in the United States, Boulder residents practice this every day.
  • Active transportation (walking, hiking, cycling, mass transit) is absolutely key to a vibrant, healthy community.
  • Design the city to be human-scaled and pedestrian friendly.
  • There is a place for cars, but not at the forefront (both in the city and on college campuses) – the University of Colorado campus is amazingly compact and is only bisected by a few streets.
  • Skyscrapers and sprawl are not necessary for a healthy community – sprawl, in particular, is the antithesis of a healthy community.
  • Create third places and amenitiesdowntown Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall (a closed street) is an amazing third place filled with people and constant activity.
  • Embrace street art, performers, and vendors – they add life and vibrancy.
  • Preserve and protect your community’s architecture and cultural heritage – they’re the only ones you’ve got!
  • People will pay the necessary premiums (taxes, fees, rent, cost of living, etc.) to live, work, and play in a well-planned, diverse, eccentric, healthy, innovative, and sustainable community.
View of Boulder - photo by the author

View of Boulder – photo by the author

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4 Responses to Ten planning lessons from Boulder

  1. I especially agree with your last point. Seems self-evident that city governments that focus on the needs of residents might enjoy the support of those same residents.

    In my neck of the woods, there has been something unbearably attractive about risky civic projects aimed outward to “lure business” and “spark growth,” which can easily turn into handouts to people with no inherent stake in the community. Hard to get excited about that state of affairs.

    On the other hand, with less federal and state money dribbling down to the local level, there’s less OPM (other people’s money) with which to speculate. Kind of a bad news, no-so-bad news story.

    In short, go Boulder!

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  2. It always helps if the residents have high-paying jobs which enable them to “pay the necessary premiums” for such a quality community. This goes over like a lead balloon with those of us who are now being excluded from the workplace, especially when we have useful college educations, no criminal records, and no mental health problems.

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  3. Joe says:

    I think it was the other way around. The quality community began when we started preserving the city’s mountain scape in 1959 and the Danish Plan to manage residential growth in 1976. When folks saw the beauty and recreational opportunities that preservation created that’s when the high-paying jobs came into the area.

    Personally, as home values increased I was priced out of home ownership in Boulder as I don’t have a college education, but it is still a wonderful place to live.

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